HTC One S Review: The Goldilocks Smartphone

The HTC One S fits nicely into the middle of the Taiwanese handset maker’s range of flagship lettered smartphones. The One S though is not too much of a super phone like the One XL, but it’s not too basic like the One V, so is the Golidlocks-like One S something you should have in your life?

What Is It?

As we mentioned, the HTC One S fits neatly into the middle of HTC’s One range of smartphones. The 4.3-inch touchscreen sits on top of a powerhouse 1.67GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB (9.8GB usable) storage. The screen is a 540 x 960 pixel qHD Super AMOLED that boasts 256 pixels per inch. The 8-megapixel camera records 1080p video and the audio is augmented by Beats technology (if you’re into that sort of thing).

The One S then certainly looks good on paper.

What’s Good?

As soon as you pick up the HTC One S, you notice that it’s different to other Android smartphones. It’s thin at 7.8mm, light at just under 120 grams and feels great in the hand thanks to the brushed aluminium finish. It’s not like other handsets like — dare I say — the Samsung Galaxy SIII that, despite the premium price-tag, feel quite cheap in the hand thanks to a plastic finish.

The rear of the unit is broken up only by a few curving lines, the Beats Audio logo and a beautiful blue ring surrounding the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera. The sides of the unit are just as minimalist in their design, with one thin, silver bar in place of the dual volume rockers.

Speakers are concealed under fashionable looking grilles on both sides of the unit and three navigational keys adorn the front bezel. All in all, it’s a great looking and great feeling device.


As soon as you hit the power button, you’re greeted by the incredibly bright and vivid 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED display. The screen produces beautiful colours, which makes viewing photos, videos and just browsing around on the web a real treat for someone who digs a well-saturated display.

Navigating around the handset is very easy thanks to HTC Sense, which by now is actually not as horrible as it was when pitched my HTC Desire into a river a couple of years ago. That was a good day.

The One S animates windows very nicely, and it even supports three-finger swiping gestures. At the moment it defaults to opening the control app for the HTC HD Media Link player. (Editor’s Note:We’ve got our hands on the HTC HD Media Link Player. It’s certainly a nifty little gadget that we’ll have a review of on Wednesday.)

I haven’t found a way to change what the gesture does just yet, but if you can change it, it would be incredibly helpful for a power user. Three-fingered swipe into Friend Stream or the Mail app would help you get a lot done quickly.

The device performs admirably in benchmarking tests, scoring highly in Quadrant and admirably in GeekBench 2. Its GeekBench score of 858 rates it almost as highly as its big brother, the quad-core One X, which scores 891.

Despite the impressive processing power behind the One S, the 1650mAh battery integrated into the handset means that it will happily trundle along for a few days without needing to be charged. That’s with light usage, though. A heavy user would likely be charging every one or two days.

Setting up the handset is also actually really intuitive, too. I don’t often remark on handset set-ups because they are the most annoying thing about getting a new phone, but the One S has a really nice system that takes you through and asks you to set up the accounts you have before hitting the home screen.

I know that all Android handsets do this, but HTC’s way of doing it just felt friendlier. It knows what most people use most of the time, like social apps, and guides you through in order of most to least popular, before leaving the least popular in a list of things you can set up after you’re done integrating Facebook, Twitter and your Google account, for example.

It also point-blank asks you to set up Dropbox, and that’s a great thing, because it gives you 25GB worth of Dropbox storage for free out of the box. It’s awesome to put this offer in front of people who may have never contemplated cloud storage before.

All up, it’s a nice little handset, but of course, it has its downsides.

What’s Bad?

Despite the fact that the screen produces bright, vivid images, it’s also one of the handset’s biggest problem areas. There is a lot of pixellation visible on this screen, especially when you look at app icons in the menu and on the home screen. Also, if the display is on anything less than three-quarter brightness, it can look oddly purplish in its hue.

Moving around the handset is reasonably fluid, but every so often there’s a stutter and a bit of lag in the animations. It’s the same for a few apps, too. It’s particularly noticeable in GeekBench 2, for example. That’s a negligible issue, though. It’s likely nothing that Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean and Google’s Project Butter can’t fix.

The 8-megapixel camera produces a great image, but — like the screen — it still carries pixelated noise. You’ll never be able to fool 100 per cent of people into believing it was taken with a point-and-shoot instead of a mobile phone, but it’s passable if you forget your dedicated camera on a day out.


The LED notification indicator light is also in a stupid place on this handset. It’s a tiny little light buried beneath the front speaker grille, which means any light that it puts out is diminished when you go to view it at an angle. You won’t know that you’ve missed a call or received a message or email unless you switch the screen on. If it’s going to be that irritating to view, why even put the LED indicator light in there in the first place?

The One S also doesn’t have any expandable storage. It’s not a huge issue thanks to the 25GB worth of Dropbox storage you’re getting, but it’s likely going to be a deal breaker for some.

Should You Buy It?

The HTC One S is available across Telstra, Virgin and Optus right now, and it’s very reasonably priced across all three.

Optus will give you the One S for $0 upfront on its $50 Optus Plan for 24 months. That plan will nab you $500 worth of standard calls and texts to Australian mobiles and 1GB of included data.

Virgin, meanwhile, will let you walk out of the store with a One S for $0 upfront on a $39 Big Plan for 24 months. That one includes $650 worth of calls and texts per month and a 2.5GB data allowance. Virgin will also throw in a free pair of Beats Solo headphones with the One S for a limited time.

Telstra doesn’t actually have any prices for the One S listed, nor is it providing subsidised handset information to customer service staff. One assumes that it would be $0 on the $60 Every Day Connect Plan which gets you $600 worth of calls and, 1GB worth of data and unlimited text on a 24-month contract. We’re chasing that up with Telstra, though.

Those are all pretty reasonable prices, and the HTC One S is a great phone for anyone looking for an Android handset that isn’t a super phone like the One X or One XL. You might start to get sick of looking at the screen after 12 months, so think long and hard about getting on a contract with it, but other than that, it’s a happy little phone that’s not too big, not too small, not too spec-crazy, but not too underpowered either. It really is a Goldilocks device: just right.

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